Friday, 2 August 2019

Komšić Says Croatian Police Entering Bosnian Territory

ZAGREB, August 1, 2019 - Chairman of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Željko Komšić on Thursday added fuel to the verbal war with Croatian officials, claiming that they were "meddling and lying", reiterating once again that Croatia's police officers were illegally entering Bosnia and Herzegovina's territory.

Commenting on a statement by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who said that he was sorry about the "exaggerated reactions" by officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina and messages to President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Komšić told the Klix web portal that statements like that did not interest him and that he expects Croatian authorities to, above all, ensure that their police officers withdraw from territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina who are allegedly entering the country to push back illegal migrants.

"That is unacceptable undermining of Bosnia and Herzegovina's territorial integrity and sovereignty. Instead of asking for an apology due to the lies their officials have been caught in, they should order that armed police withdraw from the border area," Komšić said.

"The tensions are just a reaction to the conduct of senior Croatian officials and their meddling in Bosnia and Herzegovina's internal affairs. We call for resolving at the highest level all outstanding issues between two neighbouring and friendly countries," Komšić said.

More news about relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Bosnian Security Minister Accuses Croatian Police of Pushbacks of Migrants

ZAGREB, August 1, 2019 - Bosnia and Herzegovina's Security Minister Dragan Mektić has again accused Croatian police of forcibly returning illegal migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina and violating the country's territorial integrity.

"We have the information to prove this, that they enter our territory armed, and footage showing what they do to migrants who cross into Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina, they beat them, take away their money and mobile phones, and return them to us," Mektić told the Bosnian Faktor news website on Thursday.

Mektić said that his ministry does not have the authority to respond because this is a foreign policy matter, adding that all information available has been referred to the country's presidency from which they expect a reaction.

"Something has to be done, there has to be a response. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also been notified that Croatian police enter Bosnia and Herzegovina armed, and they, too, must respond and protect the integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Mektić said.

The Croat chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Presidency, Željko Komšić, raised this issue at a meeting with Croatia's Ambassador Ivan Sabolić on Wednesday.

Suhret Fazlić, the mayor of Bihac, the town with the largest concentration of illegal migrants seeking to reach western Europe, made similar accusations in a statement carried by the Zagreb-based Jutarnji List daily earlier this week.

Fazlić said that all migrants caught in Croatia are pushed back across the border near Bihac regardless of whether they came from Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"Croatian police, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, cross the border one kilometre deep into our territory. When I tell them that it is against the law, they just shrug and say they are acting under orders. You can't justify such actions with deterrence," the mayor said.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Interior Minister: Talks Yet to Be Held on Taking in Migrants

ZAGREB, July 23, 2019 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović on Tuesday commented on information that after Croatia takes over the chairmanship of the Council of the EU next year, it could start to receive migrants directly from ships in the Mediterranean, saying that there has been no agreement in that regard and that talks are yet to be held on that matter.

The Večernji List daily on Tuesday reported that Croatia has not received any migrants from ships in the Mediterranean and that it will most likely have to consider the fact that other member states that chaired the EU, like Bulgaria, Romania and Finland, took in migrants directly from ships in the Mediterranean. This is a symbolic gesture of taking in one or two migrants and not from every ship.

"You have information that no one else in the EU has, in particular those people who talked. No agreement exists, talks exist," Božinović said responding to reporters.

He recalled that from the first day, Croatia had been expressing its willingness to respect Europe's principle of solidarity, which he said had provided for a billion kuna investment in protecting Croatia's border. He mentioned that negotiations were held on an additional 20 million euro to technically equip Croatia's border.

Božinović believes that the EU will find a balanced solution to the migrant issue, underlining that no one was putting pressure on Croatia nor could they.

He also added that Croatia had not committed to anything and if it contributed in that regard, it would be a symbolic gesture.

Božinović believes that Croatia is prepared to enter the Schengen Area and said communication with the European Commission is in line with that assessment. "Of the eight chapters that we had to comply with in the evaluation, seven have already been closed, the eighth is nearing completion, and Schengen evaluators visited this section of the Croatian border," he said.

Božinović claimed that "there is a deep respect and gratitude in the European Commission and EU toward the Croatian police for everything they are doing."

Asked whether he was worried about claims of inhumane conduct by Croatia's police toward migrants, made by an unnamed police officer in an anonymous letter to Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović, Božinović said that an investigation was immediately started to examine the claims, but added that he was concerned that the letter was leaked to the public.

He underscored that the ministry conducted between 300 and 500 disciplinary procedures annually which result in various penalties against police officers, ranging from the mildest to some officers being suspended.

Commenting on the situation in Vukovar following a Constitutional Court decision that the rights of the Serb minority in that city have to be improved and the reaction by the city authorities, Božinović claimed that the government had shown its openness to resolve all issues that might burden relations in Croatia. "We are doing that with all interested parties through dialogue," he said.

"The messages coming from Vukovar over the past few days have been encouraging but it is first and foremost necessary to hear the people who live there and their representatives in the City Assembly who know best at what pace they can achieve or improve the standard that we all are aspire to," Božinović underscored.

The government will continue, as it has until now, to respect the Constitutional Court's decisions and a solution will be reached through dialogue, for which many sides have shown interest and readiness, said Božinović.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Croatia Agrees to New Distribution of Migrants?

ZAGREB, July 23, 2019 - Fourteen European Union member states, including Croatia, on Monday agreed to the Franco-German "solidarity mechanism" to allocate migrants across the EU, but the proposal was not accepted at the EU level, a source close to the French president told Reuters news agency.

At an informal meeting in Paris, EU interior ministers failed to reach agreement on a migration control mechanism and on migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

"The conclusion of this morning's meeting is that, in principle, 14 member states, at this stage, have expressed their agreement with the Franco-German document," President Emmanuel Macron told journalists. He said the new initiative would be "quick" and "automatic".

A source close to the French presidency told Reuters that in addition to France and Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland had also signalled a clear intention to move forward with a new system.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner said last week that the aim of Monday's meeting was to gain the support of about 15 member states for a "solidarity mechanism".

Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini, whose country is at the forefront of the migrant influx in Europe, did not take part in the meeting. In a letter to Castaner, Salvini warned of the effect of decisions "solely taken in Paris and Berlin."

Italy took in almost all of the migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea until a populist coalition government took office in 2018 and immediately sought to close the nation's ports to the charity ships, Reuters said.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 426 people have died during attempts to reach Europe in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year.

Macron also said France had asked the Libyan government to ensure migrants would no longer be placed in custody in the country and that appropriate measures would be taken to ensure their safety.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 19 July 2019

State Prosecutor Calls out Human Rights Ombudswoman

ZAGREB, July 19, 2019 - The State Prosecutor's Office (DORH) has accused Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović of procedure confidentiality breach by publishing an "anonymous complaint" by border police officers who claim their superiors force them to be violent towards migrants.

Vidović has made a post on her website under the headline "Institutions without response to anonymous complaint by police officer about unlawful actions", enclosing the anonymous complaint.

DORH says it has forwarded the complaint to the relevant prosecutor's office for preliminary investigation, which is under way.

DORH notes that it is therefore not one of the institutions mentioned in the ombudswoman's headline, and that her conclusion "about the lack of response is based solely on the fact that she was not informed about action taken on the anonymous complaint."

It adds that under the law only victims may request from the relevant prosecutor's office to be informed if action has been.

DORH recalls that any action taken during a preliminary investigation as well as information on a person against whom a criminal complaint has been filed is confidential. It adds that investigation confidentiality envisages the protection of the complainant, notably when they voice fear about their personal, job or family safety, as is the case with this anonymous complainant.

More news about migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Frontex to Arrive on Croatia-Bosnia Border?

ZAGREB, July 19, 2019 - Slovenian Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar has mentioned the possibility of sending Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) to the Croatian-Bosnian border to prevent illegal migration, his ministry said on Thursday.

Poklukar met with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on the fringes of a meeting of EU interior ministers and they discussed migrations and the situation in the Western Balkans, the Slovenian Interior Ministry said.

The two ministers agreed that the problem is not the Slovenian-Italian border but the external EU border which should be protected even better, the ministry said. They expressed willingness to help Croatia if it assesses that it needs help, and Poklukar mentioned the possibility of sending Frontex to the Croatian-Bosnian border, it added.

Poklukar told Salvini that closing the Slovenian-Italian border because of illegal migration was unnecessary and that the situation on the border did not call for it. Any restriction of the border regime on the border would interfere with the everyday life of people living along the border, the ministry said, adding that border closures in history had negative consequences.

More news about migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

“Police Officers Warn about Violent, Unlawful Pushbacks of Migrants”

ZAGREB, July 17, 2019 - The Centre for Peace Studies (CMS) said on Wednesday that an anonymous complaint by border police officers about systematic unlawful actions by the Croatian police towards migrants showed that the system was "bursting at the seams", and called for an independent and effective investigation as well as for stopping and punishing unlawful actions.

Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović yesterday published the complaint and the CMS said it was the first confirmation of unlawful police conduct on the ground, given that many domestic and international organisations, institutions and media have been warning about this for years.

The complaint was made public after President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović told Swiss TV last week that Croatian police had been carrying out unlawful pushbacks using "a little bit of force", the CMS said, adding that the Interior Ministry, despite requests, still had not made a comment.

The fact that the human rights ombudswoman, after requesting an investigation, has received no feedback either from the State Prosecutor's Office or parliament, shows that the rule of law is "seriously undermined," the CMS said, adding that the ombudswoman had been warning for months that she was being denied access to data on the treatment of migrants.

The police officers' complaint shows that the dignity as well as the labour and human rights of the police are undermined because they are forced to harm other people and break the law, the CMS said.

Especially worrisome is that the officers said the orders for unlawful pushbacks came from their superiors and that, afraid of losing their jobs, they saw the only way out in an anonymous complaint to Vidovic, the CMS added.

Such lack of trust show that the system is breaking at the seams and that the situation is unacceptable and untenable, it said, calling for an investigation.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 15 July 2019

HRW Calls on Croatia to Stop Pushing Back Migrants to Bosnia

ZAGREB, July 15, 2019 The Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday sent an open letter to President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović calling on Croatia to "immediately stop summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases with force."

"Zagreb needs to put an end to unlawful pushbacks and violence against migrants at its borders," Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Balkans and the Eastern European Union (EU) at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying.

"Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Council of Europe (COE), have regularly reported on and raised concerns about pushbacks and violence by Croatian border officials at Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina," the HRW says in its report.

"Croatian authorities had denied the allegations, in some cases with smears of the groups and victims."

"Since July 2018, the European Coast Guard and Border Agency, commonly known as Frontex, has had a presence on the Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina border through a Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance (MAS) system, meaning daily aerial patrols along the border and border area to detect irregularities. One of the priorities of the Frontex operation is to detect human rights violations and summary returns.

"But in late May, Frontex told Human Rights Watch that it had not detected any human rights violations or pushbacks., the NGO says.

The HRW says in its statement that President Grabar-Kitarović's "recent admission during an interview on Swiss television that Croatian officials are engaged in these pushbacks triggers a responsibility by Croatian authorities to investigate and to hold those responsible for any unlawful action to account".

The HRW holds that the Croatian president’s statement calls into question the effectiveness of Frontex’s mission and the extent to which it is capable of fulfilling its mandate to protect human rights while engaged in border control efforts.

"The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to EU asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention," the human rights watchdog says.

More news about migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Slovenia to Step Up Control on Border with Croatia

ZAGREB, July 8, 2019 - Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec on Monday announced stepping up the control of the green border with Croatia following more intensified flows of migrants passing through Croatia and Slovenia on their way to Italy and western Europe.

To this end, Slovenia and Italy introduced joint patrols including the police staff from both countries.

After touring the border municipality of Ilirska Bistrica, Šarec said that he could understand the concern expressed by locals facing a growing number of migrants passing through the area, however, sometimes the issue was blown out of proportion for political reasons.

The number of police officers patrolling the borderline has been increased and they will also be assisted by the military and drones, Šarec said, also highlighting the problem of human trafficking.

This year, 5,000 irregular migrants have been arrested in Slovenia, half of whom have been returned to Croatia, and about 130 human traffickers have also been detained.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Grabar-Kitarović Expects EU to Realise Union is Defended on Croatian Border

ZAGREB, July 4, 2019 - President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said on Thursday on the green border in Rakovica, 120 kilometres southwest of Zagreb, that she expected the European Union to realise that the Union was defended on the Croatian border and that she expected a positive opinion on Croatia fulfilling Schengen criteria.

The president held a working meeting in Slunj with the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff Mirko Šundov and local government and police officials to discuss the situation and problems of illegal migration, after which she inspected the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina with Interior Minister Davor Božinović.

"Croatia, as the EU's external border, cannot allow illegal entries, and our primary and absolute objective is to protect national interests, protect the population on our side of the border," Grabar-Kitarović said, thanking the police for their efforts in such a difficult and dangerous job.

Local authorities said that there had been no incidents concerning migrants and Grabar-Kitarović commended the police for their cooperation.

Minister Božinović said that there was coordination between all stakeholders, local authorities and public institutions, noting that the police, along with the army, were ranked second highest with regard to citizens' trust.

He said that accusations against police behaviour were the result of unsatisfied migrants who cannot proceed further after crossing thousands of kilometres and added that "Croatia is a sovereign state with professionally trained people in the police and army and other constituents of homeland security."

"We have solutions for every challenge and situation. According to surveys, Croatia is one of the safest countries in the EU, but it has the most challenging, most complex, and longest land border in the EU. But with people like this we have nothing to fear," said Božinović.

The President added that she would intensify talks with colleagues in the EU and European Commission because newly-appointed members of the Commission need to be informed of these problems because they aren't just Croatia's problems but the EU's too.

"It is in our interest for Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries in southeast Europe to enter the EU as soon as possible because that would resolve the pressure of migrants to some extent, but until then it is necessary to invite EU officials to come out into the field to talk with residents on the Croatian side and see what the conditions on the Bosnian side are like," she said, adding that Croatia did not want to become a "hot-spot" for migrants.

"I expect a positive opinion on Croatia fulfilling Schengen criteria, which is nearing completion, and for us to enter the Schengen Area and then for all of the EU and Frontex to be involved here even though, for now, Croatian police forces are sufficient, with the technical support we have, to protect the Croatian border," she said.

She said that Croatia would continue to fulfil the criteria for membership of the Schengen Area and expected the EU's assistance with funding for the Schengen Area and border protection.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

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